While on tour to support his new album View with a Room, Julian Lage invited PG’s John Bohlinger to his soundcheck at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville to share his insights into why he likes a straightforward rig and “honest” tone.
When it comes to jazz virtuoso Julian Lage, you’d be hard-pressed to find an electric guitarist who uses less gear. “Any time I’ve [used too much equipment], there’s an awkwardness where I’m still grappling with the fact that I play here,” he says, gesturing to his guitar, then gesturing to his amp, “but the sound comes out there.” He continues, “It sounds like a joke, but it’s been a struggle for me. Any time there’s layers or filters or anything, I feel dissociated.” Of course, Lage’s rig, which buoys his clean, no-frills tone, makes sense for a musician like himself—whose playing often comes across fluidly, and as gently as his personality.
For Lage, that fluidity stems from his conception of music as a language. “I think that the way people speak is often more unfettered,” Lage told Premier Guitar in 2021. “There might not be an obvious correlation between the way people speak in a lecture and the notes on the guitar. But it's just a little stretch of the imagination to see that those are pitches, those are rhythms, those are phrases."
On View with a Room, Lage’s second release on the hallowed Blue Note Records, he’s offering a fresh, bold continuation of the conversation he’s created over the years. The album features his latest ensemble, made up of himself, bassist Jorge Roeder, and drummer Dave King—but this time, he’s added the legendary Bill Frisell. Together, the musicians help to expand Lage’s body of work with performances of 10 of his original compositions.
While on tour for the album, Lage invited PG’s John Bohlinger to the soundcheck before his show at Brooklyn Bowl inn Nashville to share his insights into why he likes a straightforward rig and “honest” tone. In the interview, Lage elaborates on his three main guitars (his Nachocaster, Collings signature, and ’55 Les Paul), explains why he prefers low volume on his amps, and offers a remarkably brief tour of his pedalboard.
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Not Your Caster
As a bit of an anomaly in the world of jazz guitarists, Lage prefers Telecasters. His number one T-style is his Nachoguitars 1657 “Nachocaster”—a saffron-colored guitar equipped with an Ellisonic P-90-size neck pickup and Fatpups Blackguard bridge pickup, built by Spanish luthier Nacho Baños. However, Lage states that he never changes from the neck position. The Ellisonic pickup, which was created by Ron Ellis for Lage’s other primary instrument, the Collings Julian Lage 470 JL, captures the clarity and acoustic-like feel of vintage single-coils. The guitar is strung with D’Addario Flatwound Electric ECG24 Chromes (.011-.050) with a .020 unwound G string. Lage also uses Tortex .88 mm picks.
The Collings 470 JL signature was built as a collaboration between Lage and Collings. It features a solid Honduran mahogany body with a laminated maple top, Ellisonic pickups, and a Bigsby B3 tailpiece. He shares that the Bigsby was added mainly for weight, as the guitar was 5 lbs. before its addition and 6 lbs. after. “That gets you right to this place where the fundamental is still there, and you have this brilliant overtone,” says Lage, who adds that much like the bridge pickup on the Nachocaster, he doesn’t touch the Bigsby. He strings this guitar with .011-.049 D’Addario flatwounds. “Honestly, I think it’s more of a rock machine than anything,” he adds.
Lage’s 1955 Les Paul goldtop was a gift from Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest, and sports the actor/guitarist’s signature. “I feel very much like a steward of it,” Lage says of the guitar. “I’m learning how to play it constantly. It’s so luxurious. Anything’s possible, so it really comes down to what do you hear, what do you want to play, what’s the voice of the music … and this guitar will be 8,000 percent there for you.”
Les Paul's handwritten message to Christopher Guest.
Lage is a longtime fan of low-watt, vintage Fender amps, in the past having remained ardently loyal to his Fender Tweed Champ, until it became impractical to bring it everywhere. On this tour, he’s playing a Magic Amps Vibro Deluxe, reminiscent of a 1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb. He plugs into the normal channel and sets his volume to 3, treble to 2, and bass to 2. As he describes, “This one has this miraculous thing where it feels like it’s being pushed at a lower volume. It’s not terribly interesting, but it is what I do.”
Julian Lage’s Pedalboard
Lage’s stripped-down pedalboard includes a Strymon Flint Tremolo & Reverb (just for reverb), a Shin-ei B1G 1 Preamp Gain Boost, and a Sonic Research ST-300 Mini Stomp Box Strobe Tuner.
Don’t wait ’til mixing to get a great tone. Record your sound as best as you can to make your tracks shine.
Recording bass can be a challenging task. Whether we are talking about a natural, woody upright-bass tone that balances well within a jazz quartet, or a nice, round electric tone with definition and copious amounts of low end for “modern” situations, the science behind how to achieve these sounds has eluded more than a few engineers and players. As both a player and as a recording and mixing engineer, I wanted to pass on a few tips that have served me well over the years.
Get the sound you want out of the instrument and amp first. Before attempting to patch, mic, process, or record anything—listen! Making sure your instrument’s sound/signal chain is free from buzzes, ground loops, unwanted distortion, and that your amp and instrument are placed where they sound best in the room will save you lots of time and headache. Make sure that the player and engineer agree that the tone is what the song or project calls for. If you opt to record electric bass direct only (not my choice), then the above still applies, but the console and speakers are now “the amp.”
Once we have a great sound in the room, let’s look at how to capture it. Speaking with my mix hat on: I hate mixing acoustic or electric bass that is contaminated with “bleed” (leakage from other instruments in the room). Too much bleed makes it difficult to do post EQ, compression, level adjustments, automation, or correctional edits. Yes, yes … Blue Note, Motown, Stax Records, yada, yada—I love them all too! But here, I’m talking about great sounding modern recordings and mixes. In short, try to get as isolated a signal as possible, even if this means putting your amp in a remote location. I have mine set up on the third floor, while my studio is in the basement. If you’re recording acoustic bass, then either use an isolation booth or very good baffles and mic placement to minimize bleed.
A little compression allows for a more even tone throughout the bass’s range, and can even tighten a good performance, without really being noticeable.
With acoustic bass, I use two mics—one over the lower fingerboard (where the player plucks the strings) and one over the soundhole beside the bridge. My favorites are the AKG C12 (fingerboard) and the Neumann U47 (soundhole). There are many generic mic choices. Experiment with smaller diaphragm mics for the fingerboard and larger diaphragm mics for the soundhole, six to eight inches away from the instrument. With electric, I use a single mic (U47 usually) and a good quality DI (direct injection) such as the Avalon V5. If you don’t have a great DI, then use the DI-out on the player’s amp.
Some mic pres are more bass-friendly than others. I’m a fan of ’70s Neves like the 1073, 1081, and others. Neves have phenomenal EQ, mic pres, and DIs. I’ve also had great success with Avalon’s all-tube VT-737sp—a great mic pre with an amazing optical compressor, EQ, and a very nice DI. After the pres, I put both signals (mic+mic or mic+DI) through some sort of light compression or limiting. My favorites are either LA2A- or 1176-type compressors. Untreated, low notes are quite a bit louder than those throughout the rest of the instrument. A little compression allows for a more even tone throughout the bass’s range, and can even tighten a good performance, without really being noticeable. This also allows us to get more signal on each track without overloading.
For recording, my approach to equalization is mostly corrective. I usually don’t “print” EQ unless the instrument tone, the mic choice, mic placement, or room sound are problematic. I like to leave the mix engineer with options by not over-compressing or EQing the bass sound as I record. With that said, if you happen to have a Pultec, then throw it on there. Even with nothing boosted or cut, it does wonders for bass. My goal is a great-sounding bass track that uses the entire dynamic range available without ever clipping. If you don’t have access to vintage gear, check out new stuff by Golden Age, Heritage Audio, or even software plugins by UAD (their emulations are exceptional).
Pay attention to phase. You’ll probably need to reverse phase on either the DI or your second mic to defeat phase cancelation (two very similar signals canceling each other out). I usually match the level of both signals and then reverse the phase on one to see if the sound becomes clearer/more defined. Sometimes (rarely), the mic or DI are dissimilar enough to not need it, but I always check.
Room vs. instrument: For me, a good instrument tone involves some of the sound from a good room. This adds depth and dimension, while the DI (electric) or fingerboard mic (acoustic) adds definition. Play with the mic placement and/or the balance of the two signals until it sounds good. My particular ethos is that whatever I record needs to sound great before the mix.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
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Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.